Uganda Marathon and Gorilla, Wildlife Experience

On some travellers’ bucket lists you will find two entries for Uganda; the Uganda Marathon and to see the Uganda Chimpanzees and Gorillas.  What an experience it is to visit Uganda and tick off both of these with our Uganda Marathon, Gorilla and Wildlife Experience!
Next departure date: 5 June 2021
ITINERARY – Uganda Marathon with Gorilla and Wildlife Safari
DAY 1:
Arrival at Entebbe International Airport, transfer to Masaka

Welcome to Uganda! Your fantastic African running and wildlife safari will start today when you touch down at the Entebbe International Airport. Entebbe is in central Uganda, about 44 km (27 mi) southwest of the capital Kampala, stunningly located on the shores of Lake Victoria (Africa’s largest lake) on the magical Entebbe peninsula. The fresh air, relaxed pace of life and tropical sun will make you feel instantly at home in the “Pearl of Africa”. The small city used to be the governmental seat of power (the word Entebbe in the local Luganda language actually means a “seat”) before it transferred to Kampala. In fact, the president of Uganda still has his official office and residence in Entebbe.You will be met by your Nature Travel guide (and fellow runner!), we will pack our bags in our comfortable, air-conditioned vehicle and we will transfer to our comfortable guesthouse in the town of Masaka, about 2 and a half hours away.

It was from the airport you just landed at that Queen Elizabeth II departed Africa to return to England in 1952, when she learned of her father’s death and that she had become Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms. Entebbe airport was also the scene of a famous hostage situation and rescue operation that ended on 4 July 1976.Depending on your time of arrival there might be a chance for an optional excursion to one or more of the nearby attractions in Entebbe. These include the extensive National Botanical Gardens, the National Zoo and the Uganda Reptiles Village. The National Botanical Gardens is a great place to start a Uganda trip, with some cool birds (Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, Red-headed Lovebird, Double-toothed Barbet, Grey Parrot, White-throated Bee-eater, Great Blue Turaco and Palm-nut Vulture) and primates (Angola Colobus, Vervet and Red-tailed Monkey).

We will make a stop at the Ugandan Equator crossing at Kayabwe, where you can stand with one leg in the Northern hemisphere while the other remains in the Southern! It makes for great photographs and memories. It is also an impressive site for purchasing memorabilia to take back home as a memento of this incredible trip in Uganda.

Depending on what time we arrive in Masaka, we might have time for a bit of sightseeing or even time to visit a local market – a buzzing, colourful, loud spectacle indeed! The nearby Nabajjuzi wetlands is also worth a visit, as it is a good spot to see two of Uganda’s most iconic species, the weird-but-wonderful Shoebill stork and the shy Sitatunga antelope.

Our accommodation for tonight is one of the best choices in Masaka, with authentic “bandas” or huts for you to sleep in, a big swimming pool to cool off in and lush gardens that are often visited by smaller mammals and many birds.

Once we have checked in we will go to one of the race number collection points in town and pick up our race packs for tomorrow’s marathon. Now the excitement will really start building…

We will have dinner at the lodge or nearby restaurant tonight and get to know each other a bit better. We will also learn a bit about where we are; fantastic Uganda! Even on the drive to Masaka you would have already seen why the opening lines of the national anthem is “Oh Uganda, Land of Beauty”. It truly is an incredibly scenic place, and no other area in Africa can match its amazing diversity of habitats. The country lies in Africa’s Great Lakes area, and the southern portion of the country includes a big part of Lake Victoria. Uganda also lies within the Nile basin, averages about 1,100 metres (3,609 ft) above sea level and has a moderate equatorial climate. Uganda has 60 protected areas, including ten national parks, that harbour populations of numerous critically endangered species.

In the last twenty years the country has shaken off its dark history (including Idi Amin’s dictatorship and a lengthy civil war) and has emerged as one of the tourist destinations on the continent. It is tourist-friendly, filled with friendly, helpful, English-speaking people, has a burgeoning cultural-artistic scene, boasts Africa’s Big Five, gorillas, Chimpanzees, over 1,000 species of birds and on top of that, has fantastic coffee! What’s not to like!

The locals are buzzing during marathon time and all the restaurants serve some sort of carbo-loading meal (like pasta or pizza) along with the usual excellent cuisine, so we are sure to find something that everyone enjoys. After dinner we will return to our huts at our lodge for a good night’s rest before tomorrow’s marathon.

DAY 2:
Uganda Marathon, return to guesthouse, transfer to Lake Mburo National Park

Today we run!
We will have an early quick breakfast at our guesthouse and proceed to the start area of the marathon, very close by, at Liberation Square. This is a marathon like no other, and you will feel the excitement and joy in the air – this is special.

It’s a beautiful, beautiful two lap route. You will cross the start line at the convivial Liberation Square with plenty of whooping & cheering! The runners head out towards the north of Masaka town. From there we will pass a bustling village called Ssaza and then up along a path to another village called Ndegeya. Both of these villages will have people cheering us on in their hundreds; you’ll feel like a champion! We’ll pass Bugabira (a school which the marathon is supporting) and likely by this point be joined by local children, running barefoot! We’ll then loop back through more villages with plenty of cheering, until we reach Masaka town again.

From there we’ll have to defeat The Beast (quite a hill!) and head up onto Pine Ridge, where we will be rewarded with unsurpassable views over rural Uganda. We’ll finish the first loop by running down a welcome, gentle slope, all the way back into town. As the volume levels rise we’ll finish back where we started, at Liberation Square. And then another loop awaits! We will run on mainly hard-baked, red dirt roads, with a little bit of trail and a little bit of tarmac at the start and finish.

The cut-off for the marathon is a very generous 9 hours, so there will be plenty of time to enjoy the superb scenery and our friendly fellow runners. When you receive your finisher’s medal it will be a special one, and one that you will treasure for a long time.

After the marathon and maybe a celebratory local beer, we will return to our accommodation for a late lunch, a shower and then our safari starts!

We will pack our bags in the vehicle and drive west for about 2 hours to our first park of the trip, the Lake Mburo National Park.
Just outside the park we will come across some of the world-famous long-horned Ankole cattle of the Bahima people that live in the area – always a highlight and worth a few photos.

The 260 km2 (100 sq mi) park is a superb wetland and Acacia savanna sanctuary that is a famous spot for serious birders, and also a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. Together with 13 other lakes in the area, Lake Mburo forms part of a 50km-long wetland system linked by a swamp. Five of these lakes lie within the park’s borders.

We will reach our stunningly-located lodge just in time to freshen up. The lodge is technically outside the park, but we will feel very much part of it, as the views from the rooms and the dining area are really breathtaking.

After freshening up we will have an excellent dinner after an amazing day of marathon running, chatting about our race and showing off the (hopefully awesome) photos we took on the route, as we watch the African night creep closer over the waters of Lake Mburo.

DAY 3:
Lake Mburo National Park to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

We will enjoy an early breakfast this morning, and then enter the park for a morning game drive.

Lake Mburo is home to 350 bird species as well as Plains Zebra, Impala (the only park in Uganda with this elegant antelope), Common Eland, African Buffalo, Oribi, Defassa subspecies of Waterbuck, Leopard, Lion (there is maybe one individual left in the park), Hippopotamus, Spotted Hyaena, Topi subspecies of Tsessebe, Southern Reedbuck, and Banded, Slender and Dwarf Mongoose.

Some of the avian gems of the park we will look for include the localised Red-faced Barbet, Rufous-bellied Heron, African Marsh Harrier, White-backed, Lappet-faced and White-headed Vulture, Brown Snake Eagle, African Hawk-eagle, Bateleur, Coqui Francolin, Grey Crowned Crane, Black-bellied Bustard, Red-headed Lovebird, Ross’s Turaco, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Green Wood Hoopoe, Nubian Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike and African Finfoot.

After our game drive we will exit Lake Mburo and head west, in the direction of a park that we all love here at the Nature Travel group; Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

It is a drive of approximately 5 hours and we will have lunch somewhere in a good spot along the way. Ugandan cuisine draws on English, Arab and Indian influences, so you are bound to find something to your liking. Traditional foods include several stews (containing peanuts, beans and/or meat) served with ugali (solidified maize meal porridge) or presented in banana leaves, as well as several fish dishes and vegetarian options.

We should reach our destination in the late afternoon. Composed of 321 km2 (124 sq mi) of both montane and lowland rainforest, and accessible only on foot due to the steepness, Bwindi was gazetted as a National Park in 1991 and declared a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in 1994. It is an amazing piece of land; it survived the last Ice Age (about 15,000 years ago) when most other forests in Africa disappeared. In the local language (Lukiga), Bwindi actually means ‘impenetrable.’

Of course most famously, Bwindi is home to more than half the world’s population of Mountain Gorillas (a subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla), Gorilla beringei beringei, about 400 individuals at last count. It is undoubtedly Uganda’s biggest tourism drawcard, and rightly so.

In addition to the critically endangered and impressive Mountain Gorillas, the incredibly biologically varied park also has almost 350 bird species (including 23 of the Albertine Rift endemic species), 120 mammal species (including various other primate species, in addition to African Elephant and many antelopes), more than 200 butterfly species, 27 species of frogs, more than 1,000 flowering plant species and 324 species of trees.

Tonight we are staying in a special spot, in a typical African safari lodge with landscaped gardens and breathtaking views of the Bwindi forest and the six peaks of the Virunga mountains in the distance.

We will check in and relax, taking in the incredible views, or maybe stretch our legs with a birding walk in the lodge grounds. We will already feel the excitement to start to build for tomorrow’s activity… A trek through the thick and dark rainforests of Bwindi in search of the great apes definitely ranks among one of the world’s premier wildlife encounters.

We will get together for a scrumptious dinner, to update our trip lists and socialise. Then we are off to bed for a good night’s rest, for tomorrow we go gorilla trekking! Remember to look up at the sky tonight before settling in – the stars are truly remarkable out here! Isn’t Africa fantastic!

DAY 4:
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Gorilla trekking), then transfer to Queen Elizabeth National Park

Today is going to be an undoubted highlight. And we don’t mean just of this trip, but of your life. Gorilla trekking really is a bucket list experience that naturalists from all over the world dream of doing!
We will have breakfast at our lodge and then head to the park offices to get briefed by the expert local guides. At 8am we will embark on the trek along the designated trails within the impenetrable forest in search for these great mountain creatures.

The park is inhabited by about 400 individual gorillas, known as the Bwindi population, which makes up almost half of all the Mountain Gorillas in the world. The gorilla trekking might take us a good few hours, depending on their movements. The trek for these great apes is tiresome as the forest can be quite wet and the going fairly steep, and it won’t be easy on our “marathon” legs! But trust us, the bit of extra exercise will he very well rewarded by meeting, watching, spending time with and photographing these incredible creatures as you look straight into their inviting, brown, expressive eyes. This is a thrill of a lifetime only Bwindi can offer you.

Although the gorillas will be the highlight, other mammals that we may be fortunate enough to find on our trek include Black-fronted and Yellow-backed Duiker, Guereza, L’Hoest’s, Blue and Red-tailed Monkey, Chimpanzee and several species of squirrels, including Fire-footed Rope, Carruthers’ Mountain, Ruwenzori Sun and Red-legged Sun Squirrel.

After this life-changing gorilla trekking experience we will return to the starting point where the slogan of “We came, we trekked, we saw and we conquered!” will be cheered when we receive our gorilla trekking certificates at our gorilla graduation.

We will enjoy a packed picnic lunch, after which we will leave for the next park of our adventure, Queen Elizabeth National Park, about 4 hours away to the north.

We will arrive at our chosen lodge in the evening. Surrounded by the park and bordering the stunning Kazinga channel, the authentic lodge has a truly unique setting. Animals literally roam in and out the camp and the sounds of hippos and hyaenas will complement our star-lit dinners… It really has a great outdoor safari atmosphere, and a close-to-nature experience with excellent food and friendly service.

We will have dinner and sit under the African sky, reminiscing about our wonderful time so far before heading to bed and a good night’s rest.

DAY 5:
Queen Elizabeth National Park

This morning we will have some excellent Ugandan coffee and a quick breakfast on the viewing deck before setting off for a full day in “Queen”, as the locals and those in the know call this fantastic park. Why don’t you try a “rolex” this morning? It is an omelette with onion and vegetables rolled up in a chapati; delicious!

“Queen” was founded in 1952 and named Kazinga National Park, but was renamed two years later to commemorate a visit by Queen Elizabeth II. The park covers a large area (1,978 km2/764 sq mi) and extends from Lake George in the northeast to Lake Edward in the southwest, with the Kazinga Channel connecting the two lakes.

Queen is Uganda’s most visited park, and with good reason! It has the most diverse habitats of any park in the country, and includes areas of sprawling grassland savannah, moist forests, fertile wetlands and beautiful crater lakes cut into the green, rolling hills. This incredible diversity has led to a fauna and flora count of 95 mammal species, over 600 bird species and much, much more. Get your cameras ready!

Our game drive this morning through the Kasenyi Plains will give us a chance to tick some impressive African big game species, including African Elephant, African Buffalo, Kob, Bushbuck, Hippopotamus, Forest Hog, Common Warthog, Nile Crocodile, Spotted Hyaena, Leopard and various smaller creatures. This section, apart from the great wildlife, is also one of the prettiest in the park, especially in the golden light of the morning.

We will also look to pick some special bird species during our drive, and we could see Shoebill, African Hobby, Rüppell’s Vulture, Bateleur, Brown Snake Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Grey Kestrel, African Finfoot, African Skimmer, Black bee-eater, Broad-billed Roller, Caspian Plover, Great Blue Turaco, Great White Pelican, Grey-winged Robin-chat, Palm-nut Vulture, Papyrus Gonolek, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Red-chested Sunbird, Rufous-bellied Heron, Western Banded Snake Eagle, White-backed Night Heron and Yellow-throated Cuckoo, along with many others.

After our game drive we will return to the lodge for relaxation and lunch.
In the afternoon, we have another fantastic activity planned! We will gather at the Mweya jetty for an afternoon boat cruise starting at 2pm. Taking the boat tour on the Kazinga channel is a real must-do activity when visiting the park. It will give us the chance to cruise just metres from hundreds of hippos and African Buffalo, while African Elephants linger on the shoreline, along with waterbirds (including African Skimmer, Pink-backed and Great White Pelican, White-breasted Cormorant, African Openbill, Saddle-billed Stork, Glossy Ibis, African Wattled Lapwing, Water Thick-knee, Grey-hooded Gull, and White-winged and Gull-billed Tern) and Nile Crocodiles. It is an incredible experience being so close to all these fantastic creatures from the comfort of the boat, with the stunning park all around us adding to the memories we will have of this cruise.
After the boat cruise we will do a short game drive along the channel track as we head back to the lodge.

We will relax and have dinner, chatting about trips we would all like to do in the future to other exotic places on the planet. Remember to listen for night creatures in and around the camp grounds; we have seen Verreaux’ Eagle-owl, Square-tailed and Black-shouldered Nightjar, and African Wood Owl here before. After our exciting day we will all get a good night’s sleep.

DAY 6:
Queen Elizabeth to Kibale National Park

We will start with an early breakfast and then we will pack our bags and check out. Before leaving the park we will undertake a game drive in the Ishasha sector in the Rukungiri District in search of the famous tree climbing Lions, whose males sport black manes, that tend to lie on fig tree branches scanning the plains for prey. This is also the only area in the park to see Tsessebe (Topi subspecies) and Sitatunga.

We then exit “Queen” and continue north towards our final park of this great Ugandan experience, the beautiful Kibale National Park. We will enjoy lunch somewhere along the route and reach our destination in the mid-afternoon.

The 776 km2 (300 sq mi) park is one of the last remaining expanses to contain both lowland and montane forests, and is famous for its primates. The park, formally established in 1993, forms a continuous forest with Queen Elizabeth National Park to the southwest. This adjoining of the parks creates a 180 kilometre (110 mi) wildlife corridor, in which African Elephants move freely.

The varied altitude (1,100 metres (3,600 ft) to 1,600 metres (5,200 ft) above sea level) of the park results in different varieties of habitat, ranging from moist evergreen forest (wet tropical forest) along the Fort Portal plateau, then through the dry tropical forest (moist semi deciduous), and then to the woodland & savanna along the rift valley floor. Over 350 species of trees have been registered in Kibale.

The reason that naturalists from all over the world come to Kibale, however, is the fact that it has one of the highest diversities and concentrations of primates in Africa. Species include the endangered Chimpanzee, Ugandan Grey-cheeked Mangabey, the endangered Ashy Red Colobus, Olive Baboon, Red-tailed Monkey, Guereza, Blue Monkey and the vulnerable L’Hoest’s Monkey.

We will reach our camp in the mid-afternoon and settle in. It is a beautifully atmospheric camp hidden away in the forest, and our home for the next two nights. Here you will get seduced by forest smells and sounds, spot primates swinging through the trees and observe rare birds and beautiful butterflies fluttering around. A magical place indeed!

We will get together in the restaurant area for relaxation, dinner and our overnight stay. Tomorrow another exciting adventure awaits!

DAY 7:
Kibale National Park (Chimpanzee trekking)

Today is going to be another highlight! So if you can’t sleep through the night due to the excitement, do not hesitate to ask for a coffee with your wake-up call; there is no better way to wake up than with a cup of good Ugandan coffee on the terrace of your tent, enjoying the lush verdant forest around you.

After breakfast we will gather at the Kanyanchu Tourism Centre in Kibale (only about 10 minutes from our camp) to do our Chimpanzee trekking activity which begins promptly at 8am. The encounter commences with a briefing from the excellent park rangers who will be our guides for the activity. After the briefing, we head to the forest in search of man’s closest relative. The activity lasts about 3 to 4 hours and over the years have had a 95% success rate of seeing some of the 1,450 individuals in Kibale. The chimps have been fully habituated and thus offer you an opportunity to draw quite close to them and take pictures. Viewing them as they munch fruit, swinging in trees, socializing, patrolling, mating and making hooting calls is an unforgettable experience that you will treasure forever. You have a full hour to enjoy these precious creatures and you are free to take as many photos as you wish!

There are of course several other mammals present in Kibale’s lush flora, though they are hardly seen. If we are lucky we might see Bushbuck, Blue Duiker, Common Warthog, Sitatunga, Forest Hog or Bushpig. And if we are extremely lucky, we could encounter African Buffalo, Leopard, some of the forest-adapted African Elephant, different mongooses, two species of otter, and even a Lion. A sharp observer will also see many species of amphibians and reptiles and a colourful variety of butterflies.

Kibale is also home to 325 variety of bird species, including 6 that are endemic to the Albertine Rift valley. These are Dusky Crimsonwing, Black-capped and Black-collared Apalis, Blue-headed and Purple-breasted Sunbird and Red-faced Woodland Warbler. Other Kibale specials are the Green-breasted and African Pitta, Afep Pigeon, Black Bee-eater, Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo, Crowned Eagle, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Western Nicator, Abyssinian Thrush, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Brown-chested Alethe, Grey Parrot, Brown Illadopsis, and many others.

After our amazing Chimpanzee trek we will return to the starting point where we will enjoy our packed picnic lunch and catch our breaths after all the excitement.

After lunch the fun doesn’t stop, as we visit the Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary. The sanctuary is a famous successful community tourism initiative where we have a chance to walk in the swampy habitat that has become known as the “bird paradise”, as we have the chance to see some special species here. They include Great Blue Turaco, Papyrus Gonolek, Yellow-billed, Hairy-breasted and Yellow-spotted Barbet, White-tailed Ant Thrush, Honeyguide and Joyful Greenbul, Shining-blue Kingfisher, Dusky-blue Flycatcher, Red-headed Bluebill, Grey-winged and Snowy-crowned Robin-chat, Superb Sunbird, Black-crowned Waxbill and Bocage’s Bushshrike.

After our exciting day, we will head back to our camp to freshen up. Then we will have our farewell dinner together, chatting about our wonderful day and the amazing and unforgettable time we had in Uganda. Then we are off to our rooms for a final night’s sleep on this amazing continent.

DAY 8:
Kibale National Park to Entebbe International Airport and Departure

And so an amazing Uganda running safari, unfortunately, comes an end. What a great time we had!

After breakfast at the lodge, we will pack our bags and head to the Entebbe International Airport. It is a drive of about 5 to 6 hours, so we will enjoy a packed lunch en route. But the time will fly, as the landscape is magnificent. We will also chat about our next running safari together and all the amazing things we have seen on this one! We will reach the airport and here we will say our goodbyes and depart on our onward or homeward flights.

*Please note: Extensions to other parks in Uganda, or to Rwanda, Tanzania or Kenya can easily be arranged. Please don’t hesitate to ask for our expert assistance.

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